2019 was a year of recovery and growth for Chinese game companies
Niko Partners reported 2019 China game market revenue of $33.4 billion, up 7.4% YoY. 2019 was a year of recovery for the games industry in China, after a nine month freeze on new game licenses in 2018. Even with stricter regulations introduced, as covered in our 2019 game regulations roundup, game publishers were able to release new high revenue generating titles that drove growth through the year. Legacy titles also performed well as demand for gaming remained strong.
Our research shows that the majority of Chinese public game companies had positive annual growth in 2019. Here is a recap of the top companies’ 2019 financial reports.
Tencent reported 2019 online game revenue of RMB 141.1 billion ($20.23 billion), up 9.9% YoY and higher than 2018’s growth rate of 8.9%, primarily due to strong growth in mobile games revenue and a softer decline in PC games revenue. Mobile games revenue was RMB 93.7 billion ($13.43 billion), up 20.4% YoY thanks to legacy titles and new title launches, such as Peacekeeper Elite. Tencent continued its silent global expansion and had five of the top ten most popular smartphone games by DAU overseas in 2019, according to App Annie. Overseas games revenue more than doubled year on year in the fourth quarter of 2019, constituting approximately 23% of Tencent’s total online games revenue in Q4. PC client games revenue was RMB 47.4 billion ($6.80 billion), down 6.3% YoY, better than the prior year of -8.2% YOY. The decline was primarily due to a lack of new game launches and a drop in paying users for Dungeon & Fighter, which was partially offset by an increase in paying users across League of Legends.
Tencent maintains its position as the #1 games publisher by revenue worldwide and as the #1 PC and mobile games publisher in China.
NetEase reported 2019 online game revenue of RMB 46.42 billion ($6.67 billion), up 15.5% YoY, higher than 2018’s growth rate of 10.8%, primarily due to strong growth in both mobile and PC game revenue from strong performance of legacy titles as well as new title launches. Mobile game revenue in 2019 was RMB 33.16 billion ($4.76 billion), up 16.2% YoY. The increase in mobile game revenue was primarily driven by strong performance from legacy titles such as Fantasy Westward Journey Mobile, Onmyoji and Knives Out. NetEase has also been expanding overseas and has found success with self-developed titles in Japan. Exports accounted for more than 10% of NetEase’s total games revenue in 2019. NetEase is now working to expand its global presence beyond self-developed titles by working with overseas partners to create upcoming games based on popular IP such as Marvel, Harry Potter, EVE, Diablo and more. PC client games revenue was RMB 13.27 billion ($1.91 billion), up 13.7% YoY. Not only is this higher than 2018’s growth rate of 10%, but NetEase continues to buck the trend of declining PC games revenue as seen across the industry thanks to expansion packs for legacy titles as well as new title launches such as Blizzard’s World of Warcraft Classic, which had a record number of subscribers.
NetEase has solidified itself as the #2 games publisher in China and has increased international business. Notably based on $6.67 billion revenue for 2019, NetEase is now larger than Activision Blizzard ($6.49 billion) and Electronic Arts ($5.39 billion).
37 Interactive Entertainment reported 2019 online game revenue of RMB 13.23 billion ($1.9 billion), up a whopping 73.28% YoY. Net Profit was RMB 2.14 billion ($307 million), up 112.58% YoY. Mobile games were the key driver in 2019, with revenue up 70% YoY. The company launched a number of new successful titles, such as Soul Land and Lord or the City. Self-developed and legacy mobile games, such as Blades and Rings and Archangel maintained stable performance. 37 Interactive succeeds in the simulation game genre and plans to invest further in this genre alongside its self-development capabilities and AI systems.
37 Interactive’s notable growth has helped it solidify its place as the #3 public games company in China. This puts 37 Interactive at a similar size to Ubisoft.
Perfect World reported 2019 online game revenue of RMB 6.83 billion ($980 million), up 25.99% YoY. Net Profit from its games business was RMB 1.88 billion ($270 million), up 37.41% YoY. New mobile titles such as Perfect World Mobile, Condor Heroes 2 and New Swordsman launched during the year and performed well. Perfect World benefited from its partnership with Tencent last year, who published Perfect World Mobile and ReEvolve in China. The company was able to take advantage of Tencent’s strong distribution and marketing channels to promote these games, reaching a far wider audience with greater ease than it could on its own. Perfect World Mobile, adapted from the PC game of the same name, generated over $140 million in its first month alone. Perfect World also continued to benefit from its relationship with Valve as it continues to operate DOTA 2 and the deal to build a China version of Steam.
Perfect World demonstrated growth in 2019 and it remains a top 5 games company in China by revenue.
Yoozoo reported 2019 online game revenue of RMB 3.52 billion ($504 million), down 1.82% YoY. Net Profit for the company was RMB 550 million ($79 million), down 45.47% YoY. The decline in revenue and profit was primarily due to an increase in marketing and labor costs as the company looked to expand overseas. Mobile games accounted for the majority of revenue at over 70% and new licensed titles such as Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming performed well overseas. However, web games declined sharply for the company as players continue to shift more time to mobile. Yoozoo’s expansion overseas has been relatively successful thanks to licensed titles such as Game of Thrones and Saint Seiya Awakening: Knights of the Zodiac.
Despite weak performance in 2019, Yoozoo expects to see strong growth in 2020 as new title launches and overseas games drive spend. Self-developed titles such as Junior Three Kingdoms 2 are already off to a strong start in 2020.
2019 results were much better than the weak 2018 caused by the licensing freeze. Chinese game companies continue to pivot to a global games strategy to grow overseas revenues via exports and investments, with NetEase and Tencent achieving double digit ratio of revenue from overseas for the first time. The temporary game license approval freeze in 2018 led to further consolidation of the market allowing these giants to grow.
Our 2020 China Game Market Reports will release next month and you can find our current reports and topline data here.